A Milton woman said she, her husband and their three-year-old son returned home safely thanks to a Canadian airline captain who operated a relief flight out of Turks and Caicos after they endured Hurricane Irma from inside their resort hotel room.
Jillian Murphy, her husband and their toddler did not get the vacation in the Caribbean they had planned for, but she says a lot of credit should be given to the captain of a Toronto-bound flight who said he was not leaving the island without passengers after being denied by airport officials.
“I have high respect in regards to Air Canada and the crew that came,” Murphy told CTV News Toronto on Wednesday.
The family packed their bags and checked the weather before leaving for Turks and Caicos on Sept. 3 ahead of the natural disaster.
Murphy said they saw rain in the forecast, but there were no hurricane warnings at the time.
Upon arrival at the resort, Murphy started hearing word of the hurricane coming to the island.
“On Tuesday morning we started hearing the word ‘hurricane’ around the resort,” she said. “Throughout the day we started talking to other people on the resort and some people who worked there and we started finding out it was a Category 5.”
“We started realizing this is far more serious than just a tropical storm.”
Murphy said the mood around the resort was mixed as some patrons were panicking and some were a little bit more relaxed.
After hearing the intensity level of the hurricane, Murphy said her family wanted to leave the island immediately. But, they were unable to get a flight back to Canada.
“We were contacting Air Canada and unfortunately we couldn’t get any flights and once we realized that we just kind of accepted that and we stayed at the resort – they were more than accommodating,” she said.
The resort held a meeting for anyone who was still staying there during the time where they discussed preparations for the hurricane, which Murphy said “put everyone at ease.”
While the hurricane passed through Turks and Caicos on Thursday evening, the family stayed inside the resort room.
“There was about a two hour timeline when it was frightening,” Murphy said. “The room was vibrating, shaking and you would hear something that was flying around outside and it would bang against the building.”
Murphy said there was water coming into the hallways from outside, which was spreading into the hotel rooms.
After enduring the hurricane, the family tried to leave the island again, but they were stranded as the airport was shut down by officials.
On Saturday night the family found out that there was a flight on Sunday morning heading to Toronto. But, after arriving at the airport they found out that the flight, which brought over electric workers to help with relief efforts, was unable to depart with passengers to head back to Canada.
While sorting the situation out, Murphy said the captain of the Air Canada flight said he refused to go back to Canada without any passengers.
The flight was eventually able to depart on Monday with the Air Canada crew conducting all preparations for the flight manually as the airport was still closed.
“They had people who had been exhausted,” Murphy said. “They had people who were upset that had already been at the airport waiting in line. They had to check everybody’s names manually on a piece of paper and then they were physically – because the motorized machine for luggage wasn’t working – walking luggage out and it was extremely hot.”
“That’s where I give them a lot of credit.”
Speaking with CTV News Toronto, spokesperson for Air Canada Kevin O’Connor said this flight was one of many relief flights that were sent to the Caribbean.
“Prior to the storm we knew that there were some people that could not get out just before the airport closed,” he said. “We were aware of them and we were confident we would get them out as soon as possible. We focused on that as we knew that Turks and Caicos was going to get hit.”
“I’m glad to hear the story (of the Milton family) that they are so happy about it. They (the airline crew) had a mission to bring people in and bring people out and they weren’t going to leave until that mission was complete.”
Murphy said she believes that if it wasn’t for the airline crew they would have been left waiting until the Turks and Caicos government made a decision to open the airport completely.
When the plane finally took off, Murphy said everyone on board was cheering.
“We were ecstatic, we were just grateful,” she said.
Air Canada and other airlines are continuing to work to get other Canadians stranded in affected areas.